So here's the setup... When you enter a High Trek Adventure, you and your teammate receive ten clues, and the two of you run around the city to find the answers for the clues. You can take public transportation, such as buses, but no private transportation, such as taxis. In 2009 High Trek Adventure ran events in 20 different cities, and if your team finished in the top 25 at any of the qualifying cities then you were invited to race in the National Championships in Las Vegas for $12,345.67.
My teammate David Bogle and I qualified for the championships when we won the race in Dallas. And our friends Marcy Beard (my sister) and John Beard (her husband) qualified when they won the race in Houston. We also qualified several other teams of our friends in Austin that would head to Las Vegas with us (Jason/Mike, Richard/Chris, and Tom/Spencer).
The championship team would be determined by two races on the same day in Las Vegas. In the morning preliminaries, all the teams would compete in a race with the same format as the qualifying races. The top ten finishers from the morning race earned the right to race again in the afternoon finals race, for the $12,345.67 prize.
The Morning Preliminary Race
The race director had hinted that there would be some rule twists for the championships, so we figured we should be ready for anything. In the weeks leading up to the race he'd posted on his website the "Official Rules of the Championship Race", but the only rule that made things any different from any other race was rule 4: "Teams may not follow/spy on other teams to aid another team. The following of other teams is not allowed in either championship race (1st or 2nd race): Team A follows team B. Team A then tells team C what TREKpoint team B found." We weren't worried about that particular rule in the slightest, as we pretty much never bother following other teams. We generally trust our crack team of clue solvers to know where we should be going better than other random teams!
When we checked in at Cheeseburger Las Vegas about an hour before the race start, we were handed a new rule sheet:
Hmmm... this rule sheet didn't list anything about rule 4. No matter, as we already decided rule 4 wouldn't affect us one way or another. However, this new rule certainly would: "Teams may NOT receive ground support. That means that non-registered persons are not to complete or aid in the completion of an activity/task for you. This includes bonus questions. If you break this rule you WILL be DQ'd. No exceptions."
We've never tried to hide the fact that we use ground support crew members to help our teams out during the race (usually to help track down scavenger hunt items for the teams) because if it's not against the rules, hey, why wouldn't you use this tactic? This new rule negated that strategy. Which we totally agree is a perfectly fair thing to do, as it certainly help levels the playing field, as not everyone can afford to bring ground support crew to these things. Since this rule was sprung on us at the last minute, we were glad that we hadn't specifically flown any of our friends out to this event just to support us. We heard other teams weren't so lucky... but I guess at least their former ground crew mates got a Vegas vacation out of the deal! We did have one ground support crew, Rob, who was originally going to help us out, as he happened to be in town anyways for business. We called up his cell phone and told him he was off the hook, as his services were now illegal. And in a town where few services are illegal, that's saying something.
For the start of the race they were apparently setting up some kind of special test, as we were told to sit across from our teammates on a table. We also were given ten playing cards. We speculated what the activity would be, but I don't think any of our teams guessed correctly... we had to build a card tower before we'd be given our clue sheets! Neat. I used to do this sort of thing all the time as a kid, but the cards I used back then weren't plastic-coated, so they stuck together better without sliding down. Dave and I had a ton of problems with this test. It didn't help that all the teams were working in close quarters and table bumping was inevitable as teams completed the test and were released... but honestly, we can't blame those factors much, as most of the other racers were soon on their way and we were still there, still failing to get our cards to stand up. We tried bending the corners of the cards a bit to help the stability, but that didn't seem to help much. (The race director told us after the race that licking the cards to get them to stick was a helpful trick.) We wondered if we'd eventually use up all the allotted time and be released in the "pity wave" 20 minutes after the start, but then finally Dave got a tower together that stood up long enough for the volunteer to mark it as good. Hooray! We got our clue sheet and headed out, and we weren't quite the last team to finish!
We called our phone contact Chris, and to our surprise we learned that our other teams hadn't successfully sent in pictures of the clue sheets yet. No problem, as our team is usually the one that does that task, anyways, so we stopped and quickly snapped and transmitted the photos:
Alrighty... where to head to? We scanned the clues, and saw that Q1 and Q4 were on UNLV, which was a fairly expected destination. We raced out of the Miracle Mile Shops and started running down Harmon Avenue towards campus. Along the way Chris informed us that one of our clue sheet photos was unreadable, so we stopped on the sidewalk to redo it. Now we were back on track. We sprinted down Harmon probably way too fast, as our adrenaline was up from our less-than-stellar opening performance at this race. We had to remind ourselves that we didn't need to win this morning race; we just needed to place in the top ten.
Chris updated us with the locations of Q1 and Q4. Q1 was on the eastern edge of campus, while Q4 was on the western edge of the north mall. Chris kept wanting to send us to Q1, but I think that was just because he hadn't figured out the layout of the campus yet. Well, we'd had the benefit of prescouting UNLV on foot a couple of days earlier, so we eventually overrode him and got ourselves headed to Q4, which we knew would be on the way to Q1. And then I finally looked closely at the picture on the clue sheet for Q4 and realized it was of something we'd observed ourselves during our scouting trips... it was the sign to a cool little wheelchair obstacle course! Wish we'd bothered to look at the picture earlier, as we knew exactly where it was. We could have saved Chris the headache of trying to pinpoint it for us, which is hard enough to do online even when you're not simultaneously trying to figure out the most optimal route for us to run for the rest of the course. (Sorry, Chris!) Anyways... here's our picture in front of Q4, the wheelchair course sign:
Next we ran down the north mall of campus. Chris had the building name and abbreviation, and general location for us. We got in the area and spotted the Fine Arts building, and headed inside. At a hallway intersection we went right, looking for room 104, but ran into a dead-end, oops. Back to the other hallway, and there it was. A volunteer told us we'd have to go inside and do a bit of improv to earn credit for this point. We got up on stage, and were told that we had to try and sell a bear to the audience member. I'm not usually a super chatty person, so Dave was surprised when I just started talking non-stop, rattling off all the amazing properties of the imaginary bear. We then even made up a impromptu silly song and dance about the bear. Even though half of what we said made no sense, it was at least loud and funny enough that the Improv Troupe guy was duly impressed with our efforts. So we were told we were good, and got our picture with the volunteer as proof:
We exited the building and Chris told us to head north and then back west on Flamingo Road. We passed our team of Jason and Mike along the way, and Jason yelled out to me that he had heard my improv set, and that it was hilarious. I guess I have a potential new career to fall back on.
We asked Chris if we should try and get a bus on Flamingo and he said nope, as there were points to get on the way. Perfect. Chris also mentioned that Q7 involved us finding ten one dollar bills with and "L" or "V" in the serial number, so we should start working on that when we had a chance. Well, we had good luck last week in New Orleans convincing a convenience store owner to let us trade dollar bills with her, so we figured we'd see if we could do the same thing here. And wouldn't you know it... there was a Speedee Mart right on Flamingo in our path. Perfect! We ran inside and pulled out our money, while explaining as quickly and clearly as we could that we were on a big scavenger hunt race, and could we please look through their one dollar bills to find ones with the right letters? Amazingly, this worked as well as it did last week, and we were able to find ten bills amongst the dollars in the register and the ones we were already carrying. We thanked the kind cashier and tipped her a dollar for her troubles, and headed off again.
Verona Pizza was only a bit further, though we accidentally overshot it a bit because I misheard the business name as something else, but after only a few wasted seconds we had our next photo, Verona Pizza for Q2:
More running down Flamingo, then north on Paradise Road. Not much more to say about this one, as Chris knew exactly how we needed to go to get there, and we jogged the distance without incident. So I'll tell you about the bonus point instead... "BQ" would give us a time bonus if we could get a picture of ourselves with a real life celebrity. The rules didn't state how much the bonus would be worth, but then again, we didn't expect too many teams to be successful in this task. But we decided we should stay on the lookout for any wandering celebrities for the rest of the race, just in case. But we didn't spot any on the way to Del Frisco's Double Eagle for Q9:
We continued north on Paradise and then west on Sands Avenue, cutting off some distance at the corner by going through a parking lot. It was a bit of a jog down Sands, so we had plenty of time to figure out that we eventually needed to be on the north side of the road before we hit Las Vegas Boulevard (aka the Strip). We then had to get across the Strip to the Fashion Show Mall on the other side. There was a handy pedestrian walkway over the strip, but that would have involved going up and down stairs, which is something we tend to avoid if at all possible. Even if it means jumping fences and running through traffic, as it did in this case. Chris guided us down to the north outside end of the mall, where we found Q6, Stripburger (which serves "Burgers, Shakes, and Cakes"):
Chris then told us to head to Q5, which was the Brahma Shrine. Well, this one was easy for us, as we saw it just last year when we raced in the Great Urban Race championships, so for once we didn't need Chris to guide us. We headed down the Strip to Caesar's, dodging both foot traffic and car traffic along the way, and went right to it:
We continued south along the Strip. For Q10 we either had to get a picture of five folks in front of the Bellagio fountains, or twenty folks on a pedestrian bridge. We debated whether we could still make the 11am show at the fountains (we left Caesar's at about 11:03), and whether the fountain show was even running that early in the morning. But in the end, those debates were moot, as we decided to use the pedestrian bridge to cross Flamingo Road, and there were plenty of people on it. And so we did the usual yelling and rounding up of strangers, convincing them how cool it would be to help us out, until eventually enough folks decided to go along with it just to shut us up:
Fun fact: That was the only pedestrian bridge we used all day during either race! Anyway, Chris told us to head south to find Rich Little's star on the sidewalk in front of the New York, New York casino. We ran by the fountains of Bellagio (which were dead calm, so I don't think they actually went off at 11am). Then there was some annoying construction going on that funneled the pedestrians into a small lane, which made for some difficult travel, but we finally weaved our way through and made it to Rich's star:
And hey... that was all we had to get! We were allowed to skip one point with no penalty, so we were skipping Q8, which would involve playing arcade games. Much as we enjoy playing games, we prefer to do such things when we're not on a race clock. We crossed the Strip to run back on the side without construction, which worked out beautifully as they actually had a car lane blocked off to traffic, so we could run on the road and avoid both cars and pedestrians altogether. Not many places on the Strip where you can do that! We headed back into the Miracle Mile Shops, and cruised around the hallway, dodging shoppers left and right. We made it back to the finish line at Cheeseburger Las Vegas, and they told us the good news... we were the first team back! That was certainly a bit surprising after our rocky start, but we pretty much hadn't made any significant errors once we finally got going.
The race folks checked our pictures, and they were all good... yes! In theory, we could still be beaten by other teams if they came back with the bonus picture of a real celebrity (which turned out to be worth 15 minutes), but that wasn't too much of a real concern. And then our team of Marcy and John finished, yay! Since we didn't have much time to refresh before the next race started, we couldn't afford to all hang around to watch the rest of our teams finish, so we left to eat, drink, and charge our cell phones. In the process, we were happy to learn that all five of our teams finished in the top ten, so we'd all get to compete in the second race! Wow, that's a first... we've never managed to get all of our teams into a final Nationals race before. Excellent!
The Afternoon Finals Race
After a bit of lunch we returned for the finals race. We learned that each of the final ten teams would be assigned a tag-along runner from a local running club. The runners would follow the teams throughout the course to ensure there was no cheating. Neat idea! Our runner turned out to have the same name as our phone contact, Chris, so we hoped it wouldn't cause confusion. We asked Runner Chris if he was good with jumping fences, and dashing across roads with cars, and he smiled and said he was. Well, then, he sounded like a perfect fit for our team!
The start of the race involved cards again, but fortunately we didn't have to build them into towers this time. Instead, they would have us play blackjack against the volunteer dealer until we had won three hands, and then we would be released. The first five teams from the morning race would all play against the dealer first, and then after they had all finished the remaining five teams would sit down to play, starting on their own race clock.
Dave let me play, even though I never have any luck at blackjack. But today would be the exception, as my first three hands were all 21s and 20s, and so our team swept past the blackjack test in a perfect 3-0 sweep. Why can't gambling ever go this well for me when there's money on the line? Well, I guess in a sense there's $12,245.67 on the line, so I suppose I shouldn't complain! We were off to a much better start than the morning race, as we were immediately in the lead! We grabbed the clue sheet and headed off to photograph it and email it in:
Ok, so the race would be divided in half, and we'd have to complete all of the first half first before receiving the next part. Like the morning race, Q1 and Q4 were on the UNLV campus. But Q2 was at Gameworks, which we knew was just south of the start. We figured that would be a good one to visit first, as we knew right where it was, and it would give our crew some time to solve some more of the points. So we cruised out of the Miracle Mile, with Runner Chris right on our heals.
It was just one long block to Gameworks, but the pedestrian crowds had grown since the morning so it was getting a bit congested for running. We dodged the people the best we could, and eventually ran past a huge mob on the sidewalk by going around on the road. But then we were trapped behind a bit of a barricade to get to the Gameworks establishment, so that involved a bit of fence scaling. Runner Chris took it all in stride, so he was meshing quite well with our reckless style of running. We went down the escalator into the arcade and got an attendant to help us get a card setup quickly. I took one Skeeball machine, and Dave bribed some folks with cash to step aside so he could take over the adjoining Skeeball machine, and in no time we easily had more than twenty tickets racked up between us:
We knew we had to get a picture of a Deuce bus for Q5, but we were about to leave the Strip so we looked up and down to see if one was coming. None in sight, so we'd have to handle that one later. We ran back north and then started east down Harmon toward campus again, just like that morning. Only this time, Phone Contact Chris called and told us we'd pass Q3 along the way, Marie Antoinette Condominiums. Perfect, we love it when the checkpoints appear right in front of us, and we managed to get Runner Chris into this shot:
Onwards along Harmon towards UNLV. We saw our team of Marcy and John coming back (they hadn't done the Gameworks bit yet), and so our teams high-fived each other as we passed by. Even though Runner Chris was a student at UNLV, he didn't know where Frank and Estella Beam Hall was, or perhaps he'd just been instructed not to give us any help along those lines. That's ok, Phone Contact Chris had figured it out, so we cut across campus to get our photo of Q4:
Rounding Beam Hall, we passed our team of Tom and Spencer at the other side. Then it was a quick jog up the east mall to the Lee Pascal Rose Garden for Q1:
Ok, all we needed to do now was get the Deuce bus picture, and we'd be done with the first half. On the way back from Flamingo we cut up to Flamingo Road to see if we'd be lucky enough to catch a bus back. It seemed that fortune was with us, as there was a bus heading our way coming along the road, but it seemed to be stopped forever at the bus stop behind us. It took so long that we got antsy and jogged forward to the next stop just in case the bus wasn't going to move. But then it finally did start moving, so we waited for it, as it was a long enough distance down Flamingo to make it worth taking a bus instead of running. All three of us bought a 24 hour bus pass as we got onboard. And it turns out the Dos XX team was onboard that same bus. Dos XX was a very competitive team that we'd just raced against the previous week in New Orleans, so we exchanged pleasantries and everyone tried not to look too disappointed to be sharing the bus with another fast team!
We got out before the bus hit the Strip as we figured it would take forever to actually make it across. We ran north on the Strip, and realized we'd just missed a Deuce heading north. We thought we might be able to catch it, but then it took off north further than our next destination, which was Margaritaville (where we'd receive the second half of the race clues). Fortunately, we saw another Deuce heading south, so we decided to cross the Strip to get our picture with it for Q5. We got there in plenty of time, as the bus was agonizingly slow in approaching the stop as the traffic in front of it was jammed. At least we were able to use the time to explain to the folks at the bus stop what we were up to, so that they were ready to cooperate with us to take this picture:
Done the first half! Well, we would be once we found the race person with our next cluesheet. We crossed back over the Strip and started searching Margaritaville for the HTA lady. And hey, Marcy and John were also there looking for her at the same time. Dave and John eventually found her, and we regrouped our teams. We received the next set of cluesheets and took our mid-point picture:
And hey, here's that same above moment captured in stereo vision! Ok, that first half of the race went pretty well, let's see if we could keep it up for the second half. Dave took a picture of the cluesheet and sent it in, and we quickly scanned it and realized that all the new points were in the downtown/Freemont Street area:
Both our teams started jogging north along the Strip. We realized that our tag-along Runner Chris had been left behind (and was undoubtedly "wasting away again") in Margaritaville, but the race director had said if our runner couldn't keep up it wouldn't disqualify us, so we kept going. Dave announced that his phone had encountered an error when sending the cluesheet picture. John then stopped our teams and said it didn't make sense to run, as we were going all the way downtown, so obviously we should wait and catch a bus. The wait for the bus gave Dave and I time to try another clue sheet send, through my phone this time, which fortunately worked. It also gave Marcy and John's runner (Kyle) a chance to text our runner and tell him where we were.
Runner Chris caught up to us before the Deuce eventually arrived so we all got onboard, together again. It took forever to start driving... apparently the bus won't move forward if anyone is in the stairwell. But there's no big announcement that the people need to get out of the stairwell, the bus just sits there until folks figure it out and word gets around to the offender in the stairway. A bit of a non-optimal system, but anyways... eventually we were driving north.
The bus ride to downtown was long enough for our crew to solve and map all the remaining clues, so we could plan out our entire route. It would be a sprint to three downtown points, and then we would skip Q8 (which required three pictures) and head back to the finish line. So fortunately, we knew exactly what we'd have to do to complete everything up to the finish line. Unfortunately, we weren't the only teams on this bus... some other teams were riding with us. Looks like it would be a madcap dash downtown, and if we all made the same bus back to the finish line, it could all come down to a sprint from the bus to the finish. Ugh.
The Deuce passed a team wearing white shirts that tried to get on bus, but the driver wouldn't let them as it was too full. We learned later that that team eventually ran all the way to downtown. That's no fun. Anyways, we got off as we entered downtown, and ran west on Bonneville Avenue to the Greco Law Group, which was Q9:
Two blocks back east, and then three blocks north on Casino Center Boulevard brought us to a church John had seen earlier in the week which was Q6 (note Runner Chris peeking his head into this shot!):
And then we crisscrossed northeast to Freemont Street, where this old neon Milk Man sign (which we had all seen earlier in the week) was Q7:
A bunch of teams were running these three points all at the same time, as the busses had caused all of us to regroup. Who would get the best bus back? We'd already calculated that the 116 bus south would probably be the fastest bet, as it went parallel to the Strip but ran along roads with less traffic. So we headed back to Casino Center Boulevard and ran south, looking for the bus stop. However, there were no bus stops along that road, and eventually the road entered a construction zone. Too late we realized that the 116 bus must have been diverted from its normal route to go around the construction, and we were now running down a road with no hope of catching a bus. Drat! Since the next 116 bus wouldn't come for a half an hour, our only viable option was to take the Deuce back south again, and just hope the traffic didn't make it too slow.
We ran back to Las Vegas Boulevard and waited at a Deuce stop. Unfortunately we'd missed one Deuce already with our ill fated attempt to catch the 116 bus, so by the time the next Deuce arrived there were again several teams sharing the ride with us. Was this race really going to come down to nothing but a short sprint?
We decided that once we hit Sahara, the monorail would undoubtedly be faster than the Deuce in the Strip traffic. As we drove south Phone Contact Chris informed us that Marcy and John had miraculously accidentally encountered the 116 bus on its detoured route, and had managed to get the driver to let them on even though they weren't at a bus stop. And no other teams were on the bus with them! Sweet, maybe that would keep them ahead of the opposing teams on our bus.
As it turns out, we should have gotten off the Deuce at the Stratosphere stop, as it takes forever for the bus to make it through the traffic of Sahara Avenue to get to the next stop. We were stuck at a standstill for many anxious minutes, within sight of the monorail stop at the Sahara but unable to get to it. Our team of Tom and Spencer were also on the bus, and they started trying to talk the bus driver into letting us off right where we were. The bus driver wasn't going for it. But instead of saying something along the lines of "sorry, I'm required by law to let you off at the bus stops only", the driver instead stated the reason he couldn't let us off early was because it would be too dangerous. Which struck us as a ridiculous rationale, as the bus was in a gridlock, along with all the other traffic ahead of it. We kept trying to reason with the gentleman, but he kept refusing, declaring he was "saving our lives" by not letting us off early. He even refused our cash bribes! Well, the man had his principles, even if we didn't agree with his perspective.
So, finally the bus made it through the busy light at Sahara Boulevard, and we jumped off at the stop. And then, of course, we immediately crossed over the Strip, dodging all the cars that were now flying by because the light was green. It was probably our most unsafe street crossing of the day, and we did it all in full view of the bus driver who claimed he was "saving our lives". If only we were better at convincing good Samaritans to please not try and save us!
The good news is that we all made it across the road, but the bad news was that we'd just missed a Monorail. Oh well, it would only be a few minutes until the next one. Since we temporarily no longer had to rush we could actually indulge in the luxury of an elevator ride instead of sprinting up the stairs to the station. We purchased a one way monorail pass and waited at the ramp with several other teams. It was looking more and more like everything might just come down to a mad dash to the finish.
Our monorail car arrived, and it was time to sit and plan our final run to glory. We heard from Phone Contact Chris that Marcy and John had made it to the finish line, and that Q10 consisted of finding a napkin from the Heart Bar in Planet Hollywood. Well, Planet Hollywood is right in the middle of the Miracle Mile Shops complex, so that wouldn't take long at all. We could only hope that Marcy and John would make it to the finish line before any non-Austin teams.
The monorail pulled into Bally's, and it was showtime again. Out the doors, and down the escalators. Through the doors at the bottom, and then a quick turn out to the closed pool area and tennis courts (a shortcut that we'd mapped out earlier, for just this sort of end-of-race scenario). Out through a back door in the wall, across the parking lot, and up the stairs in the parking garage. Cut across the parking garage to the back entrance to the Miracle Mile Shops. After negotiating that convoluted shortcut, there were no longer any teams near us, so I guess it worked. Either that or we were now way behind, one of the two.
We dashed through the Miracle Mile to Cheeseburger Las Vegas. The girl there asked if we'd used our skip point yet, and we said yes, as we'd skipped Q8. She then held up a napkin from the Heart Bar and told us we had to find one of those for Q10. No problem, and we sprinted off again through the hallway. We zipped to the center of Planet Hollywood, grabbed a napkin, and careened back to the finish. Still no sign of any of the other teams in the area... good.
We returned to the finish line with the napkin, only to discover... the race wasn't over yet! They ushered us inside, where there was a giant sized crossword puzzle setup for us on a table. We learned that we had to solve as much of the puzzle as we could, and that there would be a five minute penalty for every incorrect answer in the crossword, and we could announce that we were "done" whenever we felt like we'd gotten as far as we could. And then they took our cell phones away, and said that we couldn't work with other teams for this section. Well, alrighty then.
Marcy and John were already working on their puzzle. And we were the only other team there so far. So it was looking pretty good for our gang, as long as one of us could ace this whole crossword thing. And Marcy and John do the hardest crossword puzzles in Games Magazine all the time. We went to work, while Runner Chris stepped off to the side to become a silent observer.
The crossword had over 50 clues. Unfortunately, the interlocking intersections weren't very dense, that is, most of the words only crossed other words at one or two letters. So you couldn't get a lot of help for the tough clues by solving the clues in the other direction. Also, many of the clues were rather trivia based, so it was a case of "you either know it or you don't" type of clue. For example, "Who played 'Basher' in Ocean's 11-13?" If you haven't seen the movies, you're probably not going to know that the answer is "Don Cheadle". Heck, even if you have seen the movies, you might not know that. And without access to the phones or the internet, you're not going to come up with the answer by just sitting there and thinking about it.
So, Dave and I did the best we could with the puzzle. It became obvious that a lot of the answers were cities that HTA had raced in, and casinos on the main Las Vegas Strip. So using that knowledge we could make some educated guesses for some of the entries. But for others, there was really no guessing if you didn't know the answer to the clue.
By now many of the other teams were also in the room, also working on the puzzle. Marcy and John had turned their puzzle in, but they had skipped a few answers and guessed on a few. We were getting stumped as well. We figured we might be able to solve some more if we spent a bunch of time on it, but we were getting to the point where we probably wouldn't be solving more than one every five minutes, which is what you would need to be doing to make it worth the reduction in penalty time. So we declared ourselves as done. We had about ten unfilled words in our grid, and who knows how many incorrect guess entries. So perhaps about an hour's worth of penalty time. Yikes.
Nothing to do about it but wait for the results. After all the crosswords had been scored and penalties applied, it turns out that nobody from our Austin mob won. The crossword puzzle had pushed Marcy and John from 1st place down to 3rd place, and it had pushed our team from 2nd place down to 6th place. The winners of the event were Justin Dreschler and John Flanagan of "The Zack Attack", who came to the finish line late but did extremely well on the crossword puzzle, only getting three answers wrong (and so receiving "only" a 15 minute penalty!). So, congratulations to them, and perhaps we'll have better luck next year.
Post Race Analysis
That's it for the normal race recap. In this next section, I'll provide analysis on the final crossword special test, and the reasons why I think it was an unfortunate addition to the event. This will undoubtedly make me come across as a sore loser, as I'll be complaining about something that cost our mob the win, but I would have the same critiques even if the end result was in our favor. If any of the following arguments strike you as unjustified whining and complaining, please note that these thoughts are mine alone, and that they don't necessarily reflect the opinions of the rest of the people that I race with, who are much nicer and more easygoing than I am!
My first issue with the crossword puzzle was that it severely unbalanced the event. By this I mean that it provided much more variance to the team's finishing times than any other part of the race. When you have the top ten teams in the National Championships racing against each other, the amount of time that teams will spend solving and traveling to any given clue will often differ only a minute or two. (This was evidenced by the fact that we saw many other teams all throughout the final course, and nobody was able to establish a dominating lead at any point.) Whereas the crossword puzzle, with over 50 questions and a five minute penalty for each wrong answer, could introduce a potential variance to team's final finishing times of over four hours. Which meant that for all practical purposes, the rest of the race up to that point hardly mattered, as a perfect performance on the crossword would have catapulted just about any of the ten teams into the lead.
A further point to demonstrate how unbalanced the crossword time penalties were: For any other catastrophic error in the race, the standard penalty is 30 minutes. So if a team messes up by taking a picture at the wrong location, that's 30 minutes. If a team can't complete any other given challenge, that's 30 minutes. If a team can't solve a clue, they first have the protection of being able to skip one point, and then the next clue they can't solve is 30 minutes. In a competitive race, a 30 minute penalty is often enough to make a first place finish impossible. Our team received about 60 minutes of penalty for the crossword, and it didn't feel like there was anything in our power we could have done about it (short of knowing in advance what trivia we needed to study).
My second issue with the crossword puzzle is that most special tests in these races are meant to be doable by just about every team that tries hard enough. For example, the Improv test was certainly doable by everyone. So was finding ten dollar bills with a certain letter, winning three hands of blackjack, and winning a few tickets at the arcade playing Skeeball. The building of the card tower to start the morning race might not be something that every team could complete, but at least in that case the test was designed with a built in safety net, as teams that failed to build the card tower were released after twenty minutes of trying. You could still place in the top ten teams even with a twenty minute slow start if you ran a good race after that, so that was reasonable.
The crossword, on the other hand, was completed by none of the teams. And with good reason. Since the answers were sparsely connected, you couldn't derive much help from the crossing clues. So it was really more of a trivia test than a real crossword. And it differed from the usual types of trivia that we have to unravel when solving the rest of the race checkpoint clues in that we didn't have access to any outside help while solving it (no phones, and no internet).
The categories of questions for the crossword were a bit arbitrary, as well. There were three questions on what the school colors for UNLV were, so a team of UNLV fans would gain 15 minutes on a team that wasn't. There were five questions relating to the Ocean's 11 movies (new and old), so a team of movie buffs would gain 25 minutes on a team that wasn't. Admittedly, the two biggest categories of questions for the crossword puzzle questions you could at least expect the teams to be somewhat familiar with: Casinos on the Las Vegas strip, and cities that High Trek Adventure had visited. But that was also where the largest variance came in, as a team who'd memorized all of the casinos, or all twenty of the HTA cities would stand to gain huge amounts of time over a team that hadn't.
That concludes my argument for why the crossword puzzle was an inappropriate addition to the race. It's frustrating to get multiple teams from your group to the finish line first in both races (and also the midpoint to the second race), only to lose the event because of an arbitrary twist at the end that we couldn't possibly have known to prepare for unless we read the race director's mind.
But let me end all of this on a more positive note: While we had problems with the race structure that led to our defeat, we have no problems with being beaten by team "The Zack Attack". They were a very impressively competitive team. They were almost certainly the fastest team out there from a pure running speed standpoint, as we heard they had outrun and lost their tag-along runner before they even made it to their first point on UNLV! And obviously they were no dummies, as they had the knowledge to rock the final crossword puzzle better than anyone else. Plus, we had a chance to meet Justin and John after the race, and they seemed like very nice folks. So we're happy that at least we lost to a team that was as excellent as they were, and we're not even sure how we managed to stay ahead of them for as long as we did!
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